Photo by Jamie Squire I Getty Images
Photo by Jamie Squire I Getty Images

On Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday, Kobe Bryant showed that MJ’s imprint on the game is far from gone. Like Jordan, the Mamba approaches the game with an intelligence and relentless drive that gives him an edge over his opponents.

While Jordan/Kobe comparisons can get overdone, Kobe’s suffocating defense on LeBron James in the closing minutes of the all-star game, including 24’s block on the King’s jumpshot, were explicitly Jordanesque.

In an Outside the Lines piece on MJ, Michael discusses how he would defend LeBron, were he still playing:

The announcers gush about LeBron, mentioning him in the same sentence with Jordan, who hears every word. Those words have an effect on him. He stares at the TV and points out a flaw in LeBron’s game.

“I study him,” he says.

When LeBron goes right, he usually drives; when he goes left, he usually shoots a jumper. It has to do with his mechanics and how he loads the ball for release. “So if I have to guard him,” Jordan says, “I’m gonna push him left so nine times out of 10, he’s gonna shoot a jump shot. If he goes right, he’s going to the hole and I can’t stop him. So I ain’t letting him go right.”

Kobe Bryant, the “Air Apparent” to MJ, did just that in the closing minutes of the West’s victory over the East in the All-Star game, holding the reigning NBA Champ and MVP to just one point in the final six minutes of a close game, and blocking his shot twice.

Kobe relentlessly pushed LeBron to his left, as MJ said he would, and kept the King in check, punctuating his shut-down of LeBron by blocking James’ jumper — after James went left.

While LeBron is the best player in the world, Kobe shows that he still has a few tricks up his sleeve, just like His Royal Airness before him.

It may just have been a few plays in a glorified exhibition game, but Kobe’s intelligent and relentless defense on LeBron was reminiscent of another great shooting guard, who reached the half-century mark today.

On Michael’s 50th birthday, Kobe made good on the Jordan comparisons, and let MJ and LeBron  know that in the conversation for best player alive, and all-time, Kobe’s name must come up.

Happy birthday, MJ.